125 years of change
Salvation Army celebrates 125 years in Prince Albert
Roughly four decades ago, Claude Pelletier knocked on a door in Regina, searching for help.
He was an alcoholic and, in his words, “down on his luck.” The door belonged to the Salvation Army, and the officer who answered it gave an unexpected response.
“He didn’t tell me how good the Salvation Army was,” Pelletier remembered during an interview on Tuesday. “But, he did say to me, ‘we the Salvation Army can’t help you, but we can introduce you to somebody who can, and that someone is the lord Jesus Christ.’ I took that, I bought it and I’ve been following the Lord every since.”
In the 40 years since then, Pelletier has had his ups and downs, but he’s remained committed to his faith, and the organization that helped him find it. When the Salvation Army celebrates their 125th year in Prince Albert on Saturday, he’ll be one of many members honouring the occasion.
“I came to the Salvation Army to quit drinking and I stayed for 40 years,” he chuckled. “It’s incredible.”
Today, Pelletier is one of nearly 60 Salvation Army members living in Prince Albert, a far cry from where the organization started 125 years ago.
When the Prince Albert chapter officially opened on Aug. 22, 1892, it had two members: Captain Mary Rennie and Captain Alice Gooding. The two women spent most of their time visiting logging camps to pray with, serve and minister to the labourers.
By 1906, the organization had a brand new $7,000 office in Prince Albert and a growing list of soldiers, volunteers and adherents. In 1961 they opened a new corps building on 12th Street East. The organization evolved from visiting loggers to ministering in nursing homes and penitentiaries. They started hamper drives, opened a thrift store and started a breakfast program.
“There was a need for emotional and spiritual care there,” said Captain Laura van Schaick, another Prince Albert Salvation Army member. “That need might look a little bit different now, but it’s definitely still there.”
Throughout all that time, the members maintain that something more at work than the urge to volunteer.
“It’s God working through us,” Pelletier said. “We could never make this happen on our own.”
The bonds have lasted a long time. When canvassing for donations, Pelletier said it’s common to run into people who have stories about how the organization helped them out years or even decades ago. Second World War veterans tend to be particularly fond of the organization, thanks to the ‘donut girls,” members of the Salvation Army who set up canteens and baked donuts for soldiers on the front lines.
“I did a funeral service for a veteran shortly after arriving in P.A.,” Van Schaick remembered. “He wasn’t a church member, but the family was adamant that the Salvation Army was going to be performing his memorial service because of his experience with the Salvation Army in the war.”
The Salvation Army mission looks quite a bit different today than it did 125 years ago, and Van Schaick expects more change in the future. She said it’s important for the organization to be flexible in meeting the needs of the community.
“There are still people in P.A. and around the world who are feeling hopeless and lost and still need someone like the Salvation Army to come along side and show them that there is hope,” she said.
“The beliefs of the Salvation Army will never change,” Pelletier added. “But, the way we work can change, to adapt to whatever situation comes along. We’re always flexible for that.”
Members of the Prince Albert Salvation Army pose for a photo with city officials and former prime minister John Diefenbaker (second from left) during the 1977 Christmas Kettle Kick-off.
Salvation Army members pose for a photo with the newly constructed Prince Albert office in 1906. The building was demolished in 1961.